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Crafting symbolic geographies in modern Turkey

By B. (Beril) Çakir


Place is a social site of meaning and memory. The critical appreciation of place and its link to power in toponymic studies involve the identity politics of place naming. This paper discusses the relationship between the naming of places and identity construction in Turkey. First, conceptualized as a hegemonic practice, the Turkification of toponyms in the Kurdish region of the country is argued to be part of a broader system of assimilation. Supported by the imposition of particular ethno- nationalist narratives on the past, and conducted with concomitant processes of linguistic and demographic design, top-down and centralized engineering of the country’s toponymic order has two sides; the construction of symbolic Turkish spaces and the cultural erosion of Kurdishness. Later, the research examines the act of naming places as a Kurdish strategy of resistance and a cultural right. As an attempt to remove spatial and linguistic injustice, Kurdish toponymic practices aim at re-asserting the ‘self’ and reclaiming memory, space and identity through the re-introduction of former place names or new alternatives that are conducive to the reparation of the Kurdish identity. The discursive and material struggle over space and the clash between the Turkish and Kurdish discourses on naming places reflect the overall structure of social and political power relations in Turkey

Topics: critical human geography, toponymy, Kurdish assimilation in Turkey, identity politics
Year: 2014
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